ASHER PENN: I had originally wanted to interview you regarding the lonelygirl15 thing last year. Your last book, Pattern Recognition centers around this fictional web-video broadcast, which many people felt paralleled the first serialized show on youtube.
WILLIAM GIBSON: I didnít
think that was that interesting anyway. In a situation like that, with
regard to my work as an influence I always assumed that what I have
is a predictive talent. Some capacity to imagine what people will do.
If I imagine what people do and then people do the thing, I donít
go ďOh they did it because of what I wrote.Ē They did it cause I
knew people would do that shit.
AP: I read somewhere that
you had been completely disinterested in the Internet when it began.
WG: I wasnít
interested in it, except, you know, theoretically, until it became ďThe
WebĒ. As long as there was any learning curve involved... I mean, people
forget that before the web template, you had to take lessons, somebody
had to teach you how to do it. In the early days, people actually prided
themselves on being able to send email messages. I used to say that
Iíd send email when peopleís dogs could send email. Which is now
pretty much the case. When I wrote Idoru, I didnít know what a website
was, Iíd never seen one. Which was a real advantage for writing Idoru
because I didnít know what they were. The way I write sometimes, less
information is better.The people I knew that were
actually involved with real computers with what passed for the internet
before 1984... they had no imagination with it. They were fixated on
these little boxes that you had to sit at and manually program. I found
it so boring: it didnít seem to be the way to imagine this stuff.
AP: Throughout many of your novels you have written about fictional artists, designers and musicians: techo-savvy creatives as opposed to inventor engineers.
WG: When I was doing imaginary fiction, speculative ficition, I had a lot of fun designing things. One of the things that so- called ďcyber punkĒ writers talked about at the very beginning, before they had been labeled that, was ďhyper specificityĒ. I really liked that. The idea that if youíre going to imagine something you have to imagine it more thuroughy than you are going to present it. IĎve always worked that way. In my head I would have some pretty clear visual image of what a gizmo looked like. As long as I can remember I have been interested in what people now call design. Why people made a specific object. How functionality could be worked into an object or how an object could become uselessly baroque just from adding trim. I donít know why I never studied it formally, but when I started writing science fiction it really came to the fore. I couldnít imagine characters, and I couldnít imagine plots but I could imagine objects. Really my first couple of short stories could read as linear catalogues of objects. You could list the objects. Most of the work for me, the creative pleasure was dreaming up these bits and pieces. Having to do the storyline stuff was like pulling teeth.
AP: One of the things that
distinguishes your from the mainstream of science fiction writing is
your fixation on the urban setting: you donít write about intergalactic
war at all.
WG: Well one way
to look at that is the contrast between reality and glib bullshit, because
thereís no such thing as ďintergalactic warfareĒ. There probably
never will be. Who knows? Nobody knows about the specifics of that stuff
and cyberpunk kind of suspected that. If you read Charlie Strossís argument
that there will be no space travel, never be space colonization, itís
pretty convincing. I was stunned...like what if he was right? That it
was all just bullshit? Anyways, I think that Iím pretty much a complete
urban lifeform at this point. The distinction between being urban and
not being urban has more to do with bandwidth than where you live. Your
little kids in Omaha with their bedrooms are totally urban creatures,
but thereís no city outside their window.
AP: You also seem to be pretty
fixated on the underworld of crime. Have your books ever been
inspired by hard-boiled crime fiction? Film noir?
WG: It definitely was but only by osmosis; through a lot of filters. That was such a big flavor in 20th century pop culture that I donít know what it would take for someone to have missed that. I didnít have to read it to play those chords. Those are the 3-chord wonders of 20th century pop culture. I think I got my best and most direct hits of crime fiction through Burroughs who was recycling big chunks of Chandeler in Naked Lunch and his other earlier works. Also through Altmanís The Long Goodbye, which is totally post-modern Chander. But influence questions... anybody that knows the answer to influence questions is admitting to a terrible paucity of stuff.
AP: Both pattern recognition
and spook country hold strong ties with Russia, as does your early short
story ď hinterlandsĒ. When I mentioned this to a friend, she
suggested that you grew up with the cold war, and that as a science
fiction writer that would stick with you.
WG: Yeah, it really
stuck with me. Anybody my age that it didnít stick with is pretty
numb. There is so much richness of what Russia is today. Its fabulous.
That long experiment that so many people believed in that ended not
with a wimper. And now ití s become this grotesquely horrible version
of what we are. There is no place on earth like any of the cities in
Neuromancer... except Russia. The Russian s have become it. Itís the
most cyberpunk place on earth. And writing thrillers, Russia is just
kind of a wild card its like the bizarro world. I talked to a
film director from Khazikistan, and he told me there were four factories
in the soviet union that made sunglasses, but you had to get the sunglasses
from factory number 3 because the other three factories the lenses were
AP: In the last decade, you
have begun writng in the present day and there hasnít been any science
fiction writers who have taken where you left off in the future, Has
science fiction become harder to do?
WG: When I started writing science fiction. I already knew that it was never about the future: Its about the moment in which itís written. Nothing gets quainter faster than a piece of fiction set in an imaginary future. Thatís really part of its charm. As the days go on, the fork widens and the flying cars become less likely... But it was never about that. The only way to read science fiction that made any sense to me was to make it about the period in which it was written. 1984 is a bout 1948. Orwell didnít have to make anything up. He had Hitler he had Stalin. Something like the Puppet Master is the United States under McCarthy. Lord of the Rings is the Anglican church on crack. Thatís how I read that stuff. I never thought it was about the future. I never thought I had any predicting function. The world of Neuromancer was my take on where Reaganomics would go if you let it. The United States with no middle class. The United States turned into Mexico City. I never worried about what was going to happen. What I worried about more was seeing what I could do to engineer a longer sell-by-date into the narrative. Not because I thought the narrative would have a long shelf life, just because I thought it was a n interesting game. Some people are arguing these days that science fiction is a historical entity now. It belonged to the period between the 19th century and the 20th. There is a character in pattern recognition who argues that you canít project the future without a present thatís sufficiently stable: wide enough to stand on. Maybe thatís now.